My Peace I Give to You

Meditation on John 14:18-27

In Memory of Ora June Renesse’

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 6, 2023

Ora June met Jean Renesse’ when she was 7 and in first grade at PS 197 in Brooklyn.

Jean had terrible asthma and was held back a year. That’s how they ended up in the same grade, though he was a year older.

He always said he would marry her. She was too busy being a tomboy to entertain such ideas as a child. She was strong and athletic. Played stickball and could throw a baseball like a guy. She had auburn hair and warm brown eyes and a good sense of humor.

Ora June Seals was born on May 18, 1921 in the home of her grandparents in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. She was the youngest of two girls; her older sister was Emmy. “Ora” June was named for ancestors who have used the name “Ora” since the late 1600s. She was baptized in a Congregational Church in Brooklyn.

Her parents soon got their own place in Flatbush. Ora’s father became an auctioneer. There was always laughter in the home. Moments of sadness were gotten through on faith.

Ora began to notice her childhood friend, Jean, more when they were in 10th grade at James Madison High.   He was slim and muscular, with eyes of sky blue and dreams of piloting large ships, like his grandfather on his mother’s side. He didn’t see himself following in the footsteps of his father—an executive with Shell Oil.

They married on Oct. 31, 1940 at the same Congregational Church where she was baptized. Their anniversary would forever after be on Halloween. But it wasn’t a Trick-or-Treating holiday back then. That didn’t happen until after WWII.

Jean, with his keen sense of humor, would tell anyone who asked about their wedding date, “Yeah, I got treated and she got tricked.”

He was apprenticing to be a NJ harbor pilot when they got married. He would be gone sometimes a week at a time. They were constantly writing letters to each other. When he served in the U.S. Coast Guard in WWII, he was still piloting ships and writing letters to his wife, whom he had loved since childhood.

Ora and Jean were married 10 years when their daughter was born—a miracle baby after Ora June had nearly given up hope that she would be a mother. They named her “Ora Jean,” after both of them, and they went to live with her parents for five years. She gave birth to their son, John, four years later, but lost another girl between them.

Ora June worked as a secretary for banks and an insurance company for about 11-12 years, only until Ora Jean came along and her husband was earning enough money that she could stay home and focus her energies on being a wife and mother. It was what she wanted.

Ora June and Jean moved their family to Massapequa on Long Island in the 1950s—when Ora Jean was 6. They had their own home in the “country,” as it was back then. They attended a Methodist church. Life was simple. Family was always important. Kindness and manners mattered. Members of extended family soon moved out to Massapequa to join them so their children could grow up around people they called aunt, uncle or cousin. And they could be together with the ones they loved.

Ora June never really stopped being a “tomboy.” Not really. She was always tough––could have her teeth drilled without Novocain tough.  She remained physically strong way into her 80s, when she was still playing catch with the grandkids.

They couldn’t believe how she threw a baseball like a guy!

The promise of our Savior to not leave his disciples “orphaned” reminds us of the close, familial relationship he felt with them—and indeed we have we our Lord, even after our earthly parents pass away. We are never left orphaned!

 The disciples were more than just workers for the Kingdom and the King. They were his friends. They were his new family, whereas his biological kin were not as close. Much like the closeness he felt with his heavenly parent, whom he called “Father,” he took on the role of loving parent for those who had left their former lives behind to take up their crosses and follow him.

On his death and resurrection, the closeness that he felt with God the Father would become an intimacy that could only be described as becoming one with Him. And we would have the promise of life eternal in and with him—when he would come again and take us to himself.

“Because I live,” Christ says, “you also will live.”

The question of how we should live as we await Christ’s return and our reunion with Him and our loved ones is a natural one. We ask ourselves this every day—what is God’s will for me now? Scripture provides some good answers. But first, it is important to know how we shouldn’t live—not anxiously. Not fearfully. No matter what.

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says more than one time. “And do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus shows and tells us how we should live in peace and unity—and how we will be able to see him, here and now in this world, and experience God’s love. The Father has sent Christ’s Spirit to live within us and help us live according to God’s will. The Spirit reminds us of Christ’s teachings and example, his love and gift of peace, and strengthens and leads us, day by day.

“Those who love me will keep my word,” Jesus says to Judas (not Iscariot) and to us, “and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

We are always at home when Christ’s Spirit lives within us, no matter where we physically abide. We are always spiritually at home when we dwell with the Lord.

The woman who threw a baseball like a guy and married her high school sweetheart would have turned 102 years old on the 18th of this month. She died peacefully on Christmas Eve at home in Southhold, where she had moved in with her daughter and son-in-law Bruce after her husband, Jean, went home to be with the Lord on Feb. 16, 2018. He was 97. They had celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. On Halloween, of course.

Stored away safely in boxes are the many love letters they wrote to one another, beginning in their early years together and apart, when he was training to be a harbor pilot and was away from her, sometimes, for a week at a time. And when he was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in WWII.

Ora June’s life was not free of suffering, grief, and pain. In addition to losing a daughter to miscarriage, she lost her only son, John, in 2002—when he was just 46. While she was physically strong and mentally sharp for much of her life, she struggled with Parkinson’s near the end.

As it was in her childhood, moments of sadness were gotten through on faith.

Dear friends, do you have faith?

Christ has given us all that we need to travel our life’s journey with and without our loved ones beside us. Our lives will have suffering and grief when we choose to love others and have to say goodbye—but we will also be filled with joy to overflowing. Our hope in the Resurrection means that we will live again beyond the grave, with our Resurrected and Glorified Lord.

Our hope in the Resurrection, though, means more than life after death; It means that we are blessed with the potential to live new, resurrected lives in this world today, with the Spirit’s help.

Christ offers us His peace, as he did his first followers.  We don’t have peace naturally in this world. Not when we live in such anxious times. The world threatens to steal our peace and joy all the time, but Jesus has overcome the world. With our faith comes a peace that surpasses all human understanding; faith and peace are not contingent on the actual circumstances of our life!

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” Christ says to us now, lovingly. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid.”


Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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